Monday, 22 February 2010

Changing the face of the Postal Service

In Britain before 1840, postal services were paid for by the person who received the letter, based on the distance a letter had travelled and how many sheets of paper it contained, and yet many items went entirely free of charge - newspapers and some letters to or from members of Parliament.  The latter was particularly liable to abuse.

There was a hotchpotch of systems.  For the most part rates were high and based on a single sheet of paper.  A second sheet doubled the rate, and so on.  Some cities charged a flat rate with extra for outlying areas.  There were extra tolls for carriage by a mail coach or crossing some bridges.

Rowland Hill proposed a system where postage would be pre-paid based on the weight of the letter, at first by using a special cover and then by the purchase of an adhesive stamp, the origin of the Penny Black and the Twopence Blue. The new charges were introduced on 5 December 1939, at a rate of 4d (four pence) outside London.  At the same time free postage was abolished.  Even Queen Victoria paid for postage, as an example to others.

By 10 January 1840, the new system was so successful that the 4d rate could be reduced and a uniform penny postage was introduced.  Before the reforms came into being, 76 million items were paid for, but by 1850 this number had increased to 350 million, and growing.

This card is an unused PHQ card (Postal Headquarters) issued by the British Post Office on 22 August 1979 showing the design of the commemorative stamp issued on that date.


  1. I didn't know that postage used to be paid for by the person receiving the letter. Maybe we should go back to this, with each company approved by the recipient. Any unsolicited mail is charged back to the sender at triple rates. It would help save the environment and eliminate junk mail too.

  2. I do like the thought of charging back unsolicited mail at triple rates! That would give me immense satisfaction.


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